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Experts weigh in on internet safety after missing Utah teenage girl found in Texas

Posted at 10:32 AM, Mar 22, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-22 23:23:18-04

MAGNA, Utah — MAGNA, Utah — A missing Magna 14-year-old girl was found in Texas, just hours after an Amber Alert was issued Tuesday.

Unified Police Department said Areli Arroyo Osuna was seen getting into a black Nissan Altima driven by 20-year-old David Lopez on Monday. Although she was first thought to be a runaway, officials believed Osuna was in "some serious danger."

The two were originally considered to be headed to Texas or Mexico.

On Tuesday afternoon, UPD said Osuna "has been located and is in law enforcement custody in Texas," and that the suspect was also in custody. The department did not say if the suspect was Lopez.

"[Osuna] has no relation to [Lopez]," said Sgt. Melody Cutler with UPD. "They met on social media a few months ago. He showed up in town and she did leave with him. Based on what we can find on social media, it does not look like he is from Utah, but then again we are not 100% sure about that."

UPD will be sending detectives to Texas to continue their investigation.

With Osuna and Lopez, who also goes by the name Amilsar Vaquez, meeting online, Cutler shared a message about the dangers of social media.

"We know there are kids out there that believe their social media is their private business, but it's a dangerous place," Cutler said. "Ultimately, it doesn't matter — any social media site is a potential danger for communicating with people we don't know. Whether it be Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok; all of those sites. These predators are very good at grooming children and getting them to do things that they wouldn't normally do."

This is the second case within the last two weeks where a Utah teenager met up with a man they met on social media and found themselves trapped in a dangerous situation. Two weeks ago, a thirteen-year-old from Roosevelt, Utah, was found in a semi-truck in Wyoming after two days of the FBI searching for her whereabouts.

Cole Parkinson with Boys and Girls Clubs of Utah County’s non-profit digital safety organization Net Positive (formerly known as ‘Utah NetSmartz’) said internet predators are professionals at preying on teenagers’ vulnerable feelings.

“They are great at building a relationship over time in a very anonymous way and at a distance where it doesn’t feel threatening,” he said.

He said friends of these teenagers also have a responsibility to say something before its too late.

In this case, the Magna teen’s friends told police that the pair may be headed to Texas. That tip ended up being correct.

Parkinson said the saying ‘Snitches get stiches’ isn’t the best mantra to protect your friend.

“I would love to change that saying to ‘Snitches solve problems’ because we have an obligation to support each other as parents but also friends play a really big role in this,” he said.

Former Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder said parents can monitor social media apps and install Internet programs all they can, but it’s communication that goes a long way.

“We are trying to discern on a regular basis who they are in contact, where they’re going, and from time-t0-time verifying that information to ensure that relationship is open and honest and is two-way,” he said.